All posts by Scouts Alley

Baseball, A Love Story

By Murphy Powell


First, go to this link. Go to the comment section. I’ve added this in a little late, but it’s really excellent, and it will be mentioned again. I can’t get over how great this is. Ok, now you can read the rest of this stuff.


 

I think baseball is pretty great. It’s why I started this website, after all. And I’m supremely excited about tonight’s Game 7. I’m also pretty bummed out that there won’t be any baseball until March, and there won’t be any baseball that matters until the end of March.

For that reason, this is probably the most exciting possible baseball day of the year, and it’s also maybe the saddest baseball day of the year.

Free agency is nice and interesting, and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that on this site when moves are made and marquee players sign between November and February. So I guess that’s better than no baseball at all, but it’s not that much better. Sure, we can watch live streams of the Arizona Fall League for a little while longer, or we could watch different international leagues on a live internet stream as well.

Or, if you’re really crazy about it, you could watch some kids play in a fall league around your town.

But you should not do that unless you have a kid. Let the record show that I am not suggesting that anyone go to a children’s fall-league baseball game, unless they have a kid.

So, we’ll be without baseball for a while. It stinks, but it happens every year.

The game will start in a couple of hours, and it will probably be great because Game 7s are always great. Plus, there’s the Royals. It seems like they’ve been really close to losing and also unbeatable at the same time for the last month.

If you haven’t picked a side for tonight’s game—and you don’t have to—I’d like to send this link your direction again and tell you to go to the comment section. It’s very heartwarming and a little bit sad. And it’s one of the few comment sections on the internet that you can go without feeling horrible.

So I’ll miss you, Baseball. I’ll miss seeing Old Hoss Radbourn spell the sport out as “base ball,” which is one of my favorite things to see. I’ll miss position player pitching—ahem, Adam Dunn. But baseball—or, base ball, if you prefer—will be back soon-ish after tonight.

And here’s a prediction. The Royals will win. It’s insane to guess what will happen in one game, but the Royals are the home team, and the home team always wins Game 7. Home teams already have their home field advantage, and a home team’s winning percentage goes way, way up in a Game 7. Per Jayson Stark, “No team has lost a Game 7 at home since the 1979 Orioles, and no team has won Game 6 at home and then lost a Game 7 since the 1975 Red Sox.”

So that’s pretty good.

Ideally, we’ll all get to see some Terrance Gore action. We’ll probably see Madison Bumgarner, too, which is nice since he’s been the best World Series pitcher ever. And he’s ready to throw 200 pitches tonight, which is shocking.

Enjoy baseball tonight, everyone. Or enjoy basketball, because that’s on, too. And I think 300 starts around the same time on one channel.

I’d recommend baseball though. It’s ending tonight…unless the game goes long, in which case it would end Thursday. Or if it went really long, it might end Friday.

But it’ll probably be over tonight, so enjoy it.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you would like to.

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2014-15 New York Knicks Preview

By Joe Nocco


A season after finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs, the New York Knicks have revamped their team by re-signing Carmelo Anthony and hiring rookie head coach Derek Fisher. Finishing with a 37-45 record in 2013-2014, team president and general manager Phil Jackson hopes that he can lead the Knicks back to the postseason in his first full season in the front office.

After joining the Knicks front office in March, Jackson has attempted to change the attitude and culture of a struggling New York team through free agency, the trade market and a new offensive scheme.

It seems as if everyone in the Knicks organization is on board with the 11-time NBA Champion’s plan. In previous years, the Knicks’ complications stemmed from their lack of defense and focus solely on outscoring opponents. However, last season provided problems in all aspects of the game.

The Knicks finished in the bottom half of the league in most major offensive and defensive categories a season ago. New York ranked 20th in points per game—with 98.6—and 16th in field-goal percentage, coming in at 44.9. Despite ranking eighth in the league in fewest points allowed, the Knicks allowed the fifth highest field-goal percentage for opponents. Though the Knicks held their opponents to under 100 points per game, they allowed nearly 40 points in the paint per game as well.

It is difficult to win games when nearly half of the points allowed are inside the paint especially in close games. The Knicks went 3-8 in games decided by three points or fewer last season, while going 2-3 in overtime. Had New York closed out one of these games, they could have qualified for the postseason.

The Knicks also finished with a 15-29 record against teams with a win percentage over .500. With the second highest payroll in the NBA behind cross-town rival Brooklyn Nets, the problems begin and end at the top.

Derek Fisher, a longtime player under Jackson, was hired as the 26th head coach in Knicks history. Fisher was set to retire following the 2013-2014 after 18 seasons as a player and was signed to a five-year contract with New York on June 10. Fisher and Jackson won five NBA titles as a part of the Los Angeles Lakers and hope to implement a similar system that they used in LA in New York.

The system that will be used in New York is commonly known as the triangle offense. The sole purpose of this offense is to take the ball out of the hands of, in this case, Carmelo Anthony and spread the ball around. This would allow Anthony to get open without having the ball while letting other role players become involved with the offensive game plan. In the long run, the triangle offense relieves Anthony of the pressure of constantly handling the ball and always relying on him to carry the offense.

Carmelo Anthony finished second in the league in scoring, averaging 27.4 points per game. However, Anthony finished 72nd in field-goal percentage after sinking less than half of his shots. At 45.2 percent, the Knicks’ leading scorer made 9.6 out of every 21.3 shot attempts.

The triangle offense also translates to an effective defensive scheme. Instead of Anthony running down the court and chucking up a 25-foot shot, the ball will be worked around the perimeter until an efficient shot can be taken. This will increase the Knicks’ time of possession and keep fresh legs on defense, slowing down the tempo of the game. However, once the triangle is fully learned and executed correctly the tempo can speed up resulting in a high-scoring offensive attack.

Re-signing Carmelo Anthony was the key for the success of this offense. Though Anthony was a major part of this offense and team, the triangle offense cannot be executed properly with just one player. In lieu of re-signing the face of the franchise, Phil Jackson made his presence known in New York by making a six-player trade with the Dallas Mavericks.

Just 16 days after signing Derek Fisher to a contract, Jackson dealt center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for guards Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon and Wayne Ellington along with veteran center Samuel Dalembert. The Knicks also received the 34th and 51th picks in the 2014 NBA draft, a draft in which the Knicks previously had no picks.

The move not only bolstered the Knicks bench but made salary cap space for the possibility of Carmelo Anthony re-signing. Jackson’s thought processes proved effective after Antony returned to his hometown on a five-year, $124 million deal.

Jackson wasn’t finished after using the received picks to draft Cleanthony Early from Wichita State and Thanasis Antetokounmpo from Greece. The front office couldn’t believe that Early was still available in the second round and are expecting a strong rookie season. Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, will be stashed overseas to continue to develop for New York. His brother, Giannis, currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Still, Jackson wasn’t satisfied. The Knicks traded away Wayne Ellington two months after acquiring him from Dallas along with Jeremy Tyler in exchange for Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy from the Sacramento Kings.

It seems as though Carmelo Anthony has bought into the Jackson and Fisher philosophy as the Knicks eye a playoff berth. Although the Knicks are set to win now, both Jackson and Anthony know that this may take time. However, along with the new acquisitions and the return of Anthony, the Knicks have other pieces in place that will allow New York to compete in a weak Eastern Conference.

Amare Stoudemire is in the last year of his contract and will be playing for his future—not just in New York but in the NBA. Stoudemire is set to make $23.4 million this season after signing a contract with the team in the summer of 2010. Former No. 1 overall draft choice Andrea Bargnani also returns to the Knicks’ lineup after suffering a season ending elbow injury. Both Stoudemire and Bargnani opted into the final year of their contracts to stay with the Knicks this season.

The Knicks backcourt comprised of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardway Jr. also remained intact, which will provide a three-point threat and solid defense at the top.

With his near $100 million payroll in place, Phil Jackson is ready to begin what appears to be an eventful 2014-2015 season.

“I flashed back to 1989 when I took over as head coach and had talked to Michael (Jordan) about how I wanted him to share the spotlight with his teammates so the team could grow and flourish,” said Jackson. “In those days he was a gifted young athlete with enormous confidence in his own abilities who had to be cajoled into making sacrifices for the team.

“Now he was an older, wiser player who understood that it wasn’t brilliant individual performances that made great teams, but the energy that’s unleashed when players put their egos aside and work toward a common goal. Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we.’”


Joe Nocco is a writer for Scouts Alley and covers the New York sports beat on JoeNoccoSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeNoccoSports.

2014-15 Brooklyn Nets Preview

By Joe Nocco


Finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference a season ago, a new-look Brooklyn Nets team eyes a fresh start under new head coach Lionel Hollins. After defeating the Toronto Raptors in seven games in the first round of the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs, the Nets were bounced back to Brooklyn by LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the conference semi-finals.

Advancing to the postseason with a rookie head coach is no easy task, but after recording just 44 wins last season, expect a stronger year from the Nets in 2014-15.

Hollins, the former head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, was signed to a four-year deal worth $20 million if the sides agree to a fourth-year option. The July 7th deal came just after head coach Jason Kidd was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for second-round picks in 2015 and 2019. Kidd was the fourth head coach to leave a team following his rookie season and the first since 1979-1980.

While in Memphis, Hollins led the Grizzlies to four straight playoff appearances from 2010-2013 winning 50 or more games in his final two seasons with the franchise. The defensive-minded coach helped the Grizzlies regain a presence in the Western Conference through rebounding and a defensive authority. During the time Hollins spent in Memphis, his team ranked second in defensive efficiency, third in opponents field-goal percentage and tied for second in rebounding percentage.

The Nets ranked in the bottom half of the league in each of those categories.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Hollins said. “Repetition. We’re going to put them in stressful situations at practice. We’re going to push them and just try to get them to go beyond what you would normally do in a game. Can everybody be tougher? I think they can. How tough can they be? I have no idea and maybe one or two guys can’t make any change but that remains to be seen.”

Aside from a new head coach, the Nets have also added depth to the bench through the trade market and draft in hopes of reviving a struggling Nets offense that ranked 21st in points per game last season.

Brooklyn traded for guard Jarrett Jack to replace the void left by Shaun Livingston, who opted to join the Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers were eager to part ways with the veteran guard in order to make cap space for the return of LeBron James. Jack averaged 9.5 points per game in 80 games with the Cavs.

In addition to the departure of Livingston, the Nets also lost center Andray Blatche who joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association and forward Paul Pierce who signed with the Washington Wizards.

The Nets used the draft to acquire younger talent to replace Blatche and Pierce, adding Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown and Bojan Bogdanovic from Yugoslavia, who was originally drafted by the Miami Heat in 2011. Brown, who was typically overshadowed by his backcourt mate in Marcus Smart, averaged 15.3 points per game in his junior season and 17.2 points per game in his senior season. The rookie also averaged 34.7 minutes per game in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State.

With depth in the backcourt accounted for, center Brook Lopez must play a larger role in the Nets’ attack both on offense and defense. Lopez was cleared to play in August after suffering a Jones’ fracture in his foot in a December game but reinjured tissue in his foot and could miss 10-14 days. This is the same fracture that reigning MVP Kevin Durant recently suffered. Before his season was ended due to the foot injury, Lopez was averaging a career-high 20.7 points a game on 56.3 percent shooting.

The new-look Nets seem to have successfully paired youth and talent but must receive more production from veteran guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in order to truly improve. Johnson averaged 15.7 points per game and 2.7 assists per game last season while Williams averaged 14.3 points per game and 6.1 assists per game.

Key role players Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic will all be returning to aid Hollins in his first year in Brooklyn.


Joe Nocco is a writer for Scouts Alley and covers the New York sports beat on JoeNoccoSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeNoccoSports.

I’m Here to Help You, the Florida Football Program

By Murphy Powell


Will Muschamp isn’t out yet. He probably will be soon, but not yet.

The University of Florida released a statement following the Gators’ 42-13 home loss to Missouri, which—and this won’t surprise you—fans didn’t really love. The statement essentially said the administration will wait until the end of the season before making a decision on Muschamp’s future, which doesn’t look promising.

If a team or university makes a statement like that, it often means someone is about to lose their job. So that’s not great. If last year’s 4-8 campaign didn’t signal the end of Muschamp’s reign, Saturday’s loss probably did.

Of course, if Florida wins out and finishes 8-3, which would include wins against Georgia and Florida State, Muschamp might stick around. But I’ve watched this Florida team play football, and while there are no guarantees in sports, I can nearly guarantee you that Florida won’t win out.

I can do that because—again—I’ve watched the Gators play.

So the question is starting to become about who Florida will hire next. And I’ve got two tips for the group that will pick the new head football coach.

  • Get an offensive-minded coach

Florida has won three national championships in school history—in 1996, 2006 and 2008. Steve Spurrier was the coach in ’96, and Urban Meyer was the head man in 2006 and 2008. Both of them are or were considered strong offensive minds, as far as coaching goes. And the Gators were ranked every year one of those two guys were coaching, with the exception of 2010—Meyer’s last year.

But the idea here is that Florida has had sustained success when an offensive-minded coach has been at the helm. Meyer brought the spread offense into the SEC, and Spurrier just had his team throw the ball all the time, and it worked. I’m not sure if there is a great offense-oriented coach out there willing to come to Florida right now, but athletic director Jeremy Foley should at least give it a look.

Florida also had some success from 1909-11 with George Pyle at the helm, and I can only assume he was a mastermind as well. Charley Pell was successful for a few years in the early ‘80s, and he was a defensive-minded guy—an outlier, in a sense.

And having a coach who can run an offense that scores touchdowns would be a nice change of pace. Sure, defense wins a lot of games, but it’s asking a lot out of the defense to pitch shutouts every week.

  • This next person needs head coaching experience

The idea of Will Muschamp as a head coach is a great one. He has a ton of energy, which is super exciting to watch. And he takes a defense-first mentality, which isn’t so much fun to watch, but it can lead to wins, which are fun.

The issue—I think—with Muschamp right now is that he takes a little too much control of all aspects of his team. I also think he does this because he’s never been a head coach before. By doing that, if the ship sinks, it’s because of him and he’s fine with that, probably. In short, he’s trying to control his destiny all by himself.

But he’s had Brent Pease from Boise State—where there was a ton of offense—and Kurt Roper—who helped Duke (Duke) set a bunch of ACC records—the last two years. With them, Florida should be able to score. If they had a little more control of things, the Gators probably would.

And it seems like coaches learn from their past mistakes and successes, so Muschamp might give up a little control on offense for his next team. I hope he does, because I like Will Muschamp an awful lot. Of course, he could just do that now and stick with Florida. But that probably won’t happen.

I think Will Muschamp will probably be a really good head coach somewhere down the line, and it will probably be because he relinquishes a little control on offense and lets his coordinators do what they’re supposed to do.

For that reason, Florida needs someone with head coaching experience. The Gators need someone who has learned from their prior mistakes and successes. Hopefully that leads to more than four wins.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to.

Vasco: Tom’s Resurrection

By Jon Vasco


Well I’m back. To no acclaim at all, I’m back. Nobody asked for it, so here I am.

But I’m good for something, folks. I brought back Touchdown Tom, that Jelly-bean, from the dead. I brought him back single-handedly.

What’d I do? Well I called him out, of course. Look: September 24, I call him a Jelly-bean. On September 29, he plays like the biggest damn Jelly-bean in the history of The Shield. I take a week off—well, two weeks off. Cabo isn’t too kind, not that that’s where I was or anything—and Brady plays the game of his life. Or just the game of the year. Either way, it was my belittling him the week before that allowed his success.

“Oh, you betcha, Tom. I’ll downtalk you anytime, pal. Just send me the check at the end of the year. Let’s call it 10 percent of your salary. Yeah, that should do it.”

Yep, those are my powers. But who to put down today… hmmm…

Well KC and N’Orleans are off, so those won’t work. Can’t do it to Touchdown Tom, not again. Not Bortles, not yet—but soon. Eli’s too much of a Jelly-bean, and damn it we don’t need to go down that road again.

Ohhh….

Haha.

Got it.

Flacco.

He’s playing the Falcons, and the Falcons pass defense plays as well as a pile of hot garbage. So there’s no pressure on Flacco to perform, because anyone could perform against those Falcons. But he won’t. Not now. I’ve never been a big Flacco guy, not that it really means anything, but I have no faith in him. None. Zilch.

I’m too excited now. I can’t wait til Sunday at one to watch Flacco do whatever it is he’ll do. Maybe he won’t play horribly this week, but I can guarantee he’ll be a stud in Cincinnati two weeks from now. Don’t ask how it works. I have no idea. But it works, and you can count on it.

I don’t talk about college football much because it’s not as fun. There’s less viciousness, fewer savages, fewer steroids than we see in The League. And the NCAA is made up of a bunch of nincompoops, in my estimation.

How does Todd Gurley—a future legend in the NFL, no doubt—get suspended for making $5 per autograph? What bunch of idiots would rule against him in that way? Just the NCAA, that’s who. It’s infuriating. Six months from now, when Gurley is destined for NFL stardom, he’ll be set. He can sign all the garbage he wants and get all the money in the world while he’s still in school… as long as he’s not a “student-athlete.” Balderdash. That’s right: Balderdash.

What stupidity. Just outrageous stupidity.

I want to rail against the system in favor of Jameis, too, but good God, does he keep making mistakes. That’s another column, though. Screw your head on straight, kid. You’ve got the whole world in your hands.

Ah, to be young and dumb again…

Jon.


Jon Vasco is a columnist for Scouts Alley. That’s all there is to it.

 

How Did Kentucky Win?

By Murphy Powell


Kentucky beat South Carolina.

Just read it again. This might take some time to sink in.

It was a strange weekend in the SEC, with two teams from Mississippi beating top-six teams in the AP Poll, then becoming top-five teams themselves. Things were even strange outside the SEC, and 11 teams in the Top 25 lost.

But the weirdest of all events had to take place in Lexington on Saturday. Kentucky beat South Carolina.

So how did this happen? I’m not sure yet. We’re going to find out together.

Just looking at team stats, South Carolina should have edged Kentucky out. SC outgained Kentucky overall, 500 yards to 447, but Kentucky averaged more yards per play. The Wildcats averaged one more yard per pass, and about half-a-yard more per rush, than South Carolina. So that’s a difference, but it’s not a big one.

Kentucky had more penalties for more yards, so there seems to be another edge for SC there. And while it’s not necessarily a great stat to pick a winner, South Carolina held the ball for 10 more minutes than Kentucky, which is notable.

But now we hit turnovers. That’s where the problem—and the difference in the game—comes in. South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson threw three interceptions, plus SC had a fumble, and, boy oh boy, did those hurt.

South Carolina had a 17-7 lead and was cruising along with 4:45 left in the first half, like they should have since they’re South Carolina and Kentucky is Kentucky.

Then Braylon Heard broke off a 38-yard touchdown run, making the score 17-14 with SC still ahead. Once South Carolina got the ball back, they started to drive, and things were looking alright. Then Thompson threw an interception.

This interception hurt, but it didn’t hurt as much as the other two. This first one just led to a field goal, but it was a field goal that tied the game at 17. So now we go to the half. I’m imagining that Spurrier and his team were a little disappointed with the turnovers, but they probably had some confidence since they were playing Kentucky, who—don’t forget—is Kentucky.

Kentucky came out firing in the second half, scoring on a 75-yard drive to start the third quarter. But the third quarter was boring, because South Carolina scored all three times and didn’t do anything to lose the game, so we’re fast-forwarding to the fourth quarter.

So now it’s 38-31, with South Carolina still ahead. With six minutes left, Kentucky makes a stop, and Jojo Kemp runs in his third touchdown of the game, tying things up at 38.

Here is where the interceptions start, and things go downhill immediately for South Carolina.

Thompson has 2:45 to lead his team down the field and at least get a field goal to take the lead. Mike Davis has been running all over Kentucky, and while running the ball is a little questionable here, going with the hot hand wouldn’t have been a terrible idea.

But instead, Thompson threw it, and he threw it right to Alvin Dupree of Kentucky who ran it in for a touchdown. Now UK is ahead 45-38. It took 17 game seconds from the time South Carolina got the ball to the time South Carolina got the ball after an interception. Like I said, things went downhill immediately.

Thompson still has 2:29 left to tie things up. He has to pass here, which Kentucky knows. SC gets a first down, Thompson completes two passes, and then he throws a pick. Two interceptions in about one minute of game time. Two interceptions at the absolute worst times they could be thrown for South Carolina. Three interceptions if you could the one in the first half.

South Carolina is probably missing Connor Shaw a little more than expected.

So how did Kentucky win? They forced three interceptions at the absolute perfect times to get them.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you really want to.

What to Watch For: 10/5/14

It’s a bit of a light week byes, so maybe there aren’t as many needed pickups. But for waiver pickups, there are some New York Giants who deserve a look. A hint: Jordan Jackson recommended checking in on one of them in Week 2.

For a little more from Jordan, maybe watch out for Le’Veon Bell today against Jacksonville, and find more here in your Week 5 Mission Briefing.

And if you’re wondering about the Green Bay Packers through the first four weeks, check out their report card from Ariel Bedford.

A Look at the NL Wild Card Game

By Murphy Powell


Well, it pretty much can’t beat the Royals-A’s game. That was one of the greats. And, I’ll admit, I was waiting until after that game to do this, so the effort here will be less-than-stellar, I’m sure.

But Pirates-Giants should be a really good one. Madison Bumgarner is a really good pitcher, and Edinson Volquez was a pretty good pitcher in 2008, so that’s something.

If you haven’t kept up with the Pirates and their last four or five days, you may be wondering why Volquez—seemingly the team’s No. 3 starter who I just said wasn’t very good—is pitching the most important game of the year for Pittsburgh. The answer is because the Pirates pitched Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano in the last couple of games in the regular season in an effort to catch St. Louis and make it into the actual playoffs without having to deal with this Wild Card Game.

It was a worthwhile pursuit that just didn’t pan out for them this time around. Since they had a playoff spot locked up, a case could be made for chasing the Cardinals for that division crown. A case could also be made for accepting your fate as a wild-card-having team and saving Cole or Liriano for this one game. But the Pirates did the first thing, which, again, wasn’t a terrible idea, and now Volquez is pitching.

Of course, he could shut the Giants down. Volquez has posted a really good 3.04 ERA, but his fielding-independent numbers aren’t as friendly (4.15 FIP). The ERA suggests he’s been a really good pitcher this year, which has been aided by a really low BABIP, but his FIP says otherwise. FIP is based on what Volquez—and any other pitcher—can control: strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitches. Put simply, Volquez doesn’t strike many batters out and walks kind of a lot of them. Volquez does have good stuff that’s hard to hit, which could be a reason for the low BABIP.

And again, Volquez could just go shut out San Francisco. He did so against Atlanta his last time out and against the Brewers the time before that and against the Mets a few months ago. So it’s not that Volquez can’t be a good pitcher, he just kind of hasn’t been over the course of the season.

Bumgarner, though, he’s good. His ERA (2.98) and FIP (3.05) tell basically the same story: he’s been better than good, which is what I sort of just told you, too.

And I don’t mean to gloss over Bumgarner here, but there’s not a ton more to say about him. He strikes a lot of people out, doesn’t walk many, and is just generally good.

When we get to the bullpens, it’s tough to say who has the real advantage. The Pirates have Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, who have both been quite good in 70+ innings this year. The Giants don’t have a reliever who’s been as good as Melancon or Watson. But if we were to take the five or six best relievers in tomorrow’s game, the Pirates would have one and two, and the Giants would have three through six. Those guys include Jeremy Affeldt, Yusmeiro Petit—an MLB record-holder (!)—Santiago Casilla, and George Kontos.

That could mean that things will be interesting in the middle innings when the Pirates have to go to the pen and Bruce Bochy is considering pinch-hitting for Bumgarner.

And don’t be surprised to see Bumgarner hit more than he should. On a per at-bat basis, he’s been the sixth-best Giants hitter this year and has parked four home runs. While Bochy will probably bat him one too many times, don’t be fooled into thinking Bumgarner is an actual good hitter. He’s still a pitcher. A good-hitting pitcher, to be sure, but he’s still a pitcher. Those 78 plate appearances this year have been good ones, but that doesn’t make him a good hitter. I can’t stress that enough. If we were to choose between Bumgarner and Michael Morse or Angel Pagan, the smart money would be on the person who hits for a living.

I don’t mean to rail against Bumgarner or his hitting, but boy have I heard a lot about his hitting lately. Ok, let’s move to the position players.

These two teams have differing styles, to some degree. The Pirates hit for more power and steal more bases and they run a little better. But the Giants make up for that by also being really good at offense, even though they trail the Pirates—by small margins—in basically every stat. Where the Giants make up for this is on defense.

And the defense isn’t that great; it’s average. But average is better than what the Pirates play. Buster Posey has been a good defensive catcher, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford make a pretty strong left side of the infield, and Gregor Blanco covers pretty good ground in the outfield. As lovable as he is, Hunter Pence doesn’t play great defense, but he doesn’t have to since he hits well enough.

The Pirates do not play very good team defense. Jordy Mercer is in the top 10 defensively at shortstop, and Russell Martin is really good behind the plate, but that’s it. Of course, the other players don’t have to be very good defensively, because they hit really, really well, and the Pirates hit really, really well throughout the lineup. To wit:

So the Pirates are pretty good. The Giants are good, too. It might not be Royals-A’s, but we didn’t really think Royals-A’s would be that good either, did we?


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you really want to.

A Look at the AL Wild Card Game

By Murphy Powell


After the A’s stumbled into the playoffs and Kansas City made a run for the AL Central, someone’s season will come to an end Tuesday night. Specifically, 25 someones, plus their coaches.

And while the trendy move might be to just kick Oakland to the curb here, we’ll need to look at the game a little more deeply before we give KC a bid for the ALCS.

And giving the A’s the boot is trendy, given how terribly they’ve played since the All-Star break. Many will point to the Yoenis Cespedes-Jon Lester trade as a reason why, but we should probably hold back there.

Sure, the offense has gotten worse since moving Cespedes, but the pitching has certainly gotten better.

The cost was one Yoenis Cespedes, and the A’s got one Jon Lester to bolster an already bolstered rotation and one Jonny Gomes. When we add up the FanGraphs WAR for those players—which isn’t a bad move since FanGraphs bases awards WAR based on actual team wins—the A’s come out very, very slightly ahead. Cespedes has been worth 1.3 WAR, Lester has been 1.6, and Gomes has been basically nothing. And we can’t forget the Jeff Samardzija pickup since he’s been basically as good as Lester since the deadline. Throw in the Sam Fuld for Tommy Milone deal and we find that the A’s were even better off.

Of course, things could have been entirely different if they stood pat at the deadline. Baseball is played on the field, and leaving Tommy Milone in the rotation and Cespedes in left field could have helped the A’s keep that giant lead they held in the AL West for the first half of the year. But maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe the A’s would have collapsed even harder. We won’t know, and that’s ok. The A’s are in for now.

The Royals did some similar things at the deadline, but those things were a little more understated. They picked up Josh Willingham, who hit for more power than any other Royal than Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer in the second half.

They also picked up Jason Frasor from the Rangers, and it basically didn’t cost them anything in the short-term, with all due respect to Spencer Patton. All Frasor has done is post a 1.53 ERA in 17 2/3 innings since the trade, and he’s been the fifth-best reliever for KC in that time.

That’s mostly due to Wade Davis becoming unreal this year, Greg Holland continuing to be unreal, and Kelvin Herrera being—you guessed it—totally unreal. To give an idea of how great the trio has been, Holland has the highest/worst ERA of them: 1.44.

The plan should be simple against the Royals: Get ahead early if you plan to get ahead.

This game is pretty interesting aside from it being a for-all-the-marbles play-in playoff game that will end some poor team’s season. It shows that there are a lot of different ways to be good at baseball and, likewise, that there are a lot of different way to be a good baseball team.

The A’s have a pretty remarkable top few guys in the starting rotation, with Lester and Samardzija leading the way there. Scott Kazmir is pretty fascinating, given his history of being really, really good in 2007 with Tampa, then really, really terrible with the Angels in 2010, then being out of Major League Baseball in 2012, then being an All-Star this year. Plus there’s Sonny Gray, who is as good a mid-rotation starter as there is.

The bullpen for Oakland isn’t quite the same as that of Kansas City, but it’s not bad. Sean Doolittle is a pretty great option for the ninth inning, and Luke Gregerson, Fernando Abad, Dan Otero or Ryan Cook could each come in before him and keep an A’s lead safe.

Where the A’s really differ from Kansas City is on offense. A quick look at the numbers below shows it.

Team HR R SB BB% K% ISO AVG OBP wRC+ Off Def WAR
Athletics 146 729 83 9.4% 17.7% 0.136 0.244 0.320 101 9.4 0.5 23.2
Royals 95 651 153 6.3% 16.3% 0.113 0.263 0.314 94 -31.5 46.3 23.1

First: You’ll notice the team WARs for position players is basically the exact same. And that’s what I meant by “there are a lot of different ways to be good at baseball.”

So a lot more home runs, a lot more runs overall, more walking, and more power is the A’s way, so to speak.

And not so much power, stealing a lot of bases, and playing great defense is the Royals way. Pitching and defense is how Kansas City does it.

Starting pitching is good for the Royals, but James Shields is the only guy who matters in the rotation right now, since it’s just one game, and Shields is a pretty good option.

What’s most important, though, is the players behind Shields tonight. Defensively, there is no better outfield than Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Nori Aoki/Jarrod Dyson. And while neither of them hit a ton, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas make a pretty good left side of the infield. Pitching and defense is how the Royals won 89 games, and that’s how they’ll plan to win the Wild Card.

Whichever team wins plays the Angels, and has a good shot at winning, considering how good these pitching staffs are and how banged up the LA staff is. But they have to win tonight first.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you really want to.

Vasco: Home Dogs and Jelly-beans

By Jon Vasco


We’re starting on a bad note, folks.

“Speaking of Thursday, the Falcons. I couldn’t be less confident in a good team. Not this week, anyway. The Bucs are tough, fella… Atlanta is getting 6.5 points at home, but the Bucs will keep it closer than that. It’s a guarantee. Or as close to a guarantee I can provide.”

My god, I’m bad at this. What’s the matter with me? No betting this week, no predictions, no nothing.

I got some right last week, haha!—the home underdogs were there for me. Yes, the home dogs, that’s who needs your support. Did I shoot 100 percent there? Yep, and that 100’s way better than I’ve been, lest I need to redirect your attention to the opening of this column.

And did I bet on those teams—the Giants won, the Rams beat the spread, the Browns beat the spread, my Niners won outright—blindly? Without giving it a second thought? You bet your happy ass I did.

And will I do it again without thinking even once about who I choose? Well it worked once…

I lied earlier. I’m betting this week because why the hell wouldn’t I? Did ya see what I did with last week’s slate? I’d be a fool to not play the hot hand, and that’s what I’m doing: take the home dogs.

The Bears hosting the Packers, the Jets hosting Detroit, Miami at Oakland, Minnesota hosting Atlanta, the Saints heading to JerryWorld, and KC hosting the Pats. My picks again: Chicago (+1.5), NYJ (+1.5), Oakland (+4), Minnesota (+3), Dallas (+3), KC (+3.5).

In fact I’d take Kansas City over Tom Terrific and the Belichick no matter the spread. Brady, that damn Jelly-bean. You know a Jelly-bean when you see one, and I know Brady’s one. Lazing around, good for just about nothing, sitting, modeling, growing his hair out like a damned hippie. He’s a Jim Powell if I’ve ever met one.

And I bet you’re thinking Eli Manning’s a Jelly-bean too, and you aren’t wrong. Not totally. But Brady is a hell of a lot more of a Jelly-bean, I’d say. Any quarterback named McCown is a Jelly-bean too, probably. But Tom is the Jelly-bean king.

Not even that I dislike Brady. But I don’t, not anymore. I could get behind ol’ Tommy when he’d allow it. When he was an all-American fella, going out and winning with his pals, that’s right, Touchdown Tom.

Can’t handle him now, though. He’s lost his appeal. He married a model, moved on from Touchdown Tom, and now… eh. He is what he is. If you don’t see why I don’t like him by now, it won’t click. He’s a different Brady. He’s a Jelly-bean.

That Austin Davis from St. Louis, he’s not a Jelly-bean. He’s too interesting to be a Jelly-bean. Too charismatic, too passionate, too into the game right now. He could fall though. Happened to Touchdown Tom, it could happen to anyone.

But another Jelly-bean, Manning, plays Thursday. He travels to visit the Redskins. And these are Cousins’ Redskins. Should I be more or less afraid of him? Eh, two pretty boring teams, bub. Don’t bother watching.

Jon.


Jon Vasco is a columnist for Scouts Alley. That’s about all there is to it.